MILWAUKEE – Marquette took a chance on Buzz Williams back in 2008, hiring a relative unknown whose name elicited head scratches and shoulder shrugs from fans and alumni in the wake of Tom Crean's disappointing departure for Indiana.
Now that Williams has led the Golden Eagles to the NCAA tournament in all three of his seasons as head coach — including a surprise run to the round of 16 this year — it is clear the school's gamble has paid off.
And they're sweetening the deal to keep him around.
Marquette announced Wednesday that it has finalized a new contract with Williams, who led the team through an uneven regular season to beat Xavier and Syracuse in the NCAA tournament before they bowed out to North Carolina. Terms were not disclosed.
The new deal presumably takes Williams' name out of the running for several high-profile programs looking for a new coach.
"I was given an opportunity beyond my wildest dreams 1,086 days ago and my entire family is extremely humbled and grateful by the opportunity to continue this journey," Williams said in a statement. "Too much attention is given to my position, but I assure you, it's the collective ownership of all of those who impact our program daily, who have developed the culture we currently have. I am thankful to all of those who work so diligently to make our program the success it is today."
Williams was a surprising hire after Crean left in 2008. He had been a head coach for only one season — at the University of New Orleans in 2006-07 — when he joined Crean as an assistant. Since taking over, Williams has led Marquette to three straight NCAA tournaments, is 69-37 overall and 32-22 in Big East play.
Athletic director Steve Cottingham said the new deal recognizes Williams' status as "one of the rising stars" in the college coaching ranks.
"The current direction of the program under his leadership fits perfectly into the mission and values of the University," Cottingham said. "Buzz has done a tremendous job guiding the program to successes both on and off the court and we look forward to that continuing for many years to come."
As speculation about Williams' future at Marquette grew during the Golden Eagles' tournament run, the coach said he would address the issue after the season. Even before the 81-63 loss to North Carolina, Williams reiterated that he was thankful to Marquette.
"Marquette gave me a chance when I had no job," Williams said then. "That's the deal."
Despite the tough loss to the Tar Heels, it was Marquette's best performance in the NCAA tournament since 2003, when Crean's Dwyane Wade-led team made the Final Four.
Williams has maintained the program's success largely through the addition of junior college transfers. But Williams also has reeled in a few marquee players — including Madison native Vander Blue, who originally had committed to in-state rival Wisconsin before coming to play at Marquette.
The new contract is another step in a unique journey for Williams, who got his start in coaching as a student assistant at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas.
He went out to meet every college coach he could from there, then began writing frequent letters to all of them in hopes of getting his foot in the door.
"I didn't know anything about college basketball, to be honest with you," Williams said recently. "But I knew how to say 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir.' I wasn't scared to work, and I knew that being polite and being honest would at least give you a chance."
He eventually landed a $400-per-month assistant job at Texas-Arlington in 1994, and worked his way up the ladder.
"I just knew that the only chance I had as a non-player, as no one that was connected to anybody associated with anybody in college athletics, was to wake up early, be very hard and diligent and effective and efficient in my work, to always tell the truth and to always try to treat people the right way," Williams said.